About Warriors In Uniform

“The real reason I started all this was for the non-Indian community to realize how patriotic Indians are. We always talk about patriotism in this country, wrap ourselves in the flag, and all that, but Indians live it, they breathe it. They all say the same thing, ‘this is our country, this is our home, and we’re all fighting for the country as much as we are the United States.’”

Herman Viola, Curator Emeritus Smithsonian Institution
Author “Warriors in Uniform: The Legacy of American Indian Heroism”

Native American Patriotism, Heroism, and Service

Despite the remarkable legacy of Native American patriotism, heroism, and military service dating back to the Revolutionary War, that legacy has been largely absent from U.S. history books. Most Americans are not aware of the significant contributions made over the last 250 years by Native Americans in the military, often in spite of restrictive government policies, marginalization, and social injustice faced at home. It wasn’t until after World War I that these brave patriot warriors were granted the right of citizenship in the country they served and often died for.

The Warriors in Uniform website and database is a key component of an educational initiative inspired by the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which recognizes and honors Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians who served in the military. The goal of Warriors in Uniform is to provide students, educators, scholars, and the public with information about the critical roles Native American service personnel have played in our nation’s military and to preserve their stories of patriotism, loyalty, and bravery for future generations of native and non-native communities.

Educational Themes

The content in this project, and the Lesson Plans that are included, provide an introduction to Native American Warriors in Uniform both on and off the battlefield and reflect a number of compelling educational themes available for exploration and study. Topics include a look at why Native Americans enlist in the military at higher percentages than any other ethnic group, despite being disenfranchised until after World War I. And the use of tribal languages as a military code in World War I and II even as Native American children were forced into boarding schools and deprived of their Native languages.

A Warrior Legacy: Overview

For over a millennium, Native American warriors have been defending their homelands, what today we call the United States. Throughout history, the ancient Warrior tradition has been passed down from generation to generation. It wasn’t all about the battlefield. Being a warrior meant serving the community, preserving the culture and traditions, and protecting the tribes and sacred homelands. Over time, the U.S. military provided the opportunity for patriotic Native Americans to continue to fulfill their traditional warrior role. From scouts to code breakers, artillery specialists to fighter pilots, forward observers to sharpshooters, the unique skills and warrior culture of Native Americans has resulted in critical victories for the U.S. Armed Forces.

Native Americans have the highest rate of voluntary enlistment in the military. Per capita, they have the highest percentage of their people in military service, surpassing every other American ethnic group. They also have the highest percentage of servicewomen per population.

Native Americans served at Bunker Hill, in the Battle of New Orleans, and on the battlefields at Gettysburg, wearing the uniforms of both the North and the South in the Civil War. They rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and over 12,000 served in World War 1. During the second World War, a Native American, Ira Hayes, helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima in a war in which over 44,000 Native Americans served out of a native population of less than 350,000.

Most Native American women who participated in various military operations prior to World War II were nurses. During the 2nd World War, about eight hundred served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and the Navy Reserve’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES). In addition, thousands of Native American women supported the troops during both World Wars in war-related industries and fund-raising efforts.

During the Korean conflict, it’s estimated that 10,000 Native Americans served their country, including Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, a high school dropout who would go on to become a U.S. Senator from Colorado. During the turbulent sixties with the Vietnam War raging and the draft in full swing, 42,000 Native Americans served, 90% of whom were volunteers.

As military conflicts continued into the 21st century, Native American personnel continued to answer the call, serving with distinction in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Pvt. Lori Ann Piestewa, who was the first woman in the U.S. military to lose her life in the Iraq War, was also the first Native American woman to die in combat with the U.S. Armed Forces.

The legacy of Native American heroism is a long and proud one, fueled by patriotism, courage, and a warrior spirit. Upon their return from war, Native American warriors are celebrated and honored by their tribes – with pow wows and ceremonial events. The time has come for all students, educators, scholars, and the American public to discover the stories of Native Americans who served in the military and celebrate their incredible legacy of sacrifice, loyalty, and bravery.

Warriors in Uniform Learning

Educators and learners of all ages are invited to explore the Warriors in Uniform website. Our searchable database filters through tribal affiliations, military conflicts, military branches, and veterans’ names. Native American veterans’ video testimonials enrich the educational experience by connecting actual warriors with the learning community. A series of comprehensive Lesson Plans that spotlight the contributions of Native Americans in the military are available for educators. To learn more about the educational opportunities and resources, click here.

Warriors In Uniform Team

The Warriors in Uniform project started as an outgrowth of the work of Dr. Herman Viola, author of Warriors in Uniform: The Legacy of American Indian Heroism, and the establishment of the National Native American Veterans Memorial by the Smithsonian Institution. Project team members have a deep commitment to illuminating the experiences of Native American Veterans through the examination of primary and secondary sources associated with the service and life of each military Veteran in the database. Team members who have supported the research and creation of materials and digital design products for the project include the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Project, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, the Veterans Legacy Program at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Montana Historical Society, Viola Research Associates, Steinouer Creative, and Balance Digital Media Studios.

The Warriors in Uniform Project is deeply honored to have received support from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) for the creation of this website and support in the ongoing creation of materials for this effort.

Site Disclaimer

The Warriors In Uniform/Warrior Spirit Project has made every effort to ensure the information presented was correct when published. The information collected for the Warriors In Uniform/Warrior Spirit Project is as truthful and accurate, as permitted by individual recollection, and/or verifiable by research. The Warriors In Uniform/Warrior Spirit Project, and the participants of the Project, assume no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any other inconsistencies herein and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause.